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

The Costume

So I got my model, and I had my photographer lined up. What’s next? Well, she needed to look the part. I needed something directly from the book, and Samara was described as wearing mammoth skin, black leather, with a brown-and- gray fur.

My first stop was Hobby Lobby and Walmart, where I bought a few things:

This was the fabric I purchased, and I know there is very minute difference between the two black ones in the picture, but they were very different in person. The black fabric from Hobby Lobby was softer, more supple than the faux leather from Walmart.

I had a friend, as I mentioned, who intended to put this together for me, but much to my horror, he was not getting back to me. So I took the fabric over to another friend’s house and attempted to sew it myself on his sewing machine, using a pattern I bought.

What a huge mistake that was. A tailor, I am not.

Fortunately, about halfway through the day, I got a call from my tailor friend. “I’m ready to work on that costume,” he said, and I was on the other end practically leaping for joy. “Great!” I responded, I’ll be right over.” What I didn’t tell him was that I already started it on it. To his great dismay, he discovered that when I showed up at his house.

“What the hell did you do?” he asked me, when I pulled out the butchered tunic that was way too large for my daughter. Looking abashed, I said, “I was trying to get started. I had a pattern. It said it was for 6-10 year old children.” What the pattern meant by that age though, was that it was meant for 6-10-year-old children of GIANTS.

Well, he took my stuff, and I didn’t hear back from him for days.

In the meantime . . . I went to work on the kukri, and I took pictures of the process. I had to think about how to make this blade. I didn’t have a forge, and I definitely didn’t have time to learn how to make one.

What I did have was a grinder. I thought to myself, I can possibly get a large blade and cut it down to size. I ran to Harbor Freight and bought a machete for $5.99

Oh wait, let me back this up. In addition to the knife, I also had to carve some buttons for the costume. We wanted it to be as authentic as possible so, in lieu of mammoth tusk, I used deer antler (that’s about the same, isn’t it?).

Then I went online and looked up ancient Siberian carvings (because my tribal people are loosely based off of them), and went to work. We had decided on toggles, and I finished them in short order:

Okay, back to the knife. I decided to use the excess deer antler to make the handle. I cut out the blade and the handle, then glued them together:

So there’s the basic kukri. Now came the hard part. I went online to look up pictures of sabretoothed cats. I needed something with its mouth open, and I found this:

I needed to carve the cat into the handle!

I have never carved anything like this before. Not that I had zero experience. After all, I am a jeweler and spent a good part of my life making jewelry out of lost wax. Still, this was a different beast (like what I did there?). I had to carve a three-dimensional cat’s head into a deer antler. Well, I went to work, and I think it came out just fine:

See how that progressed? Finally, I had to put on the finishing touches, such as the engraving and the gem. Considering it is a prop (although a functional one), I just hot glued the gem in place.

Yes, that is Arabic. If you want to know what it says, you must read my book! ūüėČ

Making the knife was very fun.

Okay, so I had two days to the photo shoot, and I still hadn’t heard back from my friend. I had asked him if I could come over to take progress pictures, and the response I got was, “There is nothing to take pictures of.” So I was getting nervous.

The Saturday before the shoot, we went to board game night and my tailor friend showed up. As nonchalant as I could be, I asked, “Where the hell is my costume!!!” Well, not quite in that manner, but you get the idea. He told me that he would have the finishing touches done that night, and I could come get it before the shoot.

I will talk more about the next day in part three, but here is the completed version of the costume. It came out wonderfully.

That’s my daughter in her Samara costume. She says she is going to be Samara for Halloween.

Come back next week for Part 3. I will show off the pictures from the photo shoot.

Finding Samara

If anybody had been following me when I first started the publication process of Assassin Marked, they would know the struggle I went through to come up with a cover for it. Since it was such a short story I didn’t want to spend a lot of money, and I also couldn’t find any stock photography that portrayed Damian.

Fast forward two years later to when I began preparing my first full-length novel, The Unfettered Child, for publication. I wanted to really do my best with it, so I started early. I had several plans:

  1. Getting my daughter to model the main character
  2. Making a costume
  3. Doing a photo shoot
  4. Finally, making the cover

When I first had the idea, my daughter was keen on doing the photo shoot for me. For months we talked about it, and I went about buying the supplies to make the costume. After getting these supplies to a friend of ours, Dennis Swain, a tailor who makes costumes, my daughter decided that she didn’t want to do it anymore. Understandable, she didn’t feel comfortable showing her face to 1000s of people or more.

Panicking, I searched Pixabay for a suitable image that I could use. I found a few, but I wasn’t really satisfied with any of them.

None of these were suitable, and all of them would require a lot of shooping.

I did come up with a few designs from these. The one with the beanie, I replaced with a fur hood and cropped the chest. I put some really cool effects in her eyes. It was a nice substitute, but not good enough.

The frowning, dark-haired girl was the closest in appearances to Samara, but not quite sufficient. The redhead had a good expression, but changing that hair color would have been horrible. Finally, I did something with the silhouette, and that made it close to the final design of my cover.

I was very disappointed. After some time, the subject was brought up again, and my daughter took pity on me and agreed to do it again, on the condition that her face not be shown. Not a problem, an action scene is generally better than just a simple pose.

She had mixed feelings herself. One part of her was very interested in being on the book cover, while the other part was afraid of being in front of a camera. She very obviously doesn’t like her picture taken. For me, she was the best candidate for Samara, despite her hair color.

So it was decided, we were to move onto the photo shoot.

To be continued …

Assassin Marked: I’m very excited to report that Assassin Marked has been republished with a new cover. I created several designs of the new cover, but this is the one we decided to go with. I’d like to give credit to my nine-year-old son, Erebus, for providing tips on the colors of the lettering, specifically the red.

Assassin Marked Cover
Assassin Marked

We also improved the interior text formatting so that the words on the right page are not so close to the binding. In addition, we added a few more pages to the end of the book, giving you a very short sneak peak of Lavender Rose (the next book in the series), and my upcoming fantasy novel, The Unfettered Child (soon to be released).

In the short time that I have had Assassin Marked republished with the new cover, we have discovered a significantly more favorable response on Amazon giveaways for the book. It’s interesting how a cover can make such a difference. On some levels, it makes sense, since the cover is the first thing a potential buyer sees. If it isn’t interesting, then why should they purchase it? It doesn’t matter how good the inside content is if people aren’t attracted by the cover. I find this unfortunate, but that’s just the way it is.

Image result for First person
First person

I’ve learned something very important from publishing Assassin Marked. I really hate writing in first person. I dislike it so much that I’m not going to continue that theme with the next book in The DuFonte Chronicles. I particularly found switching between Damian and Victoria’s perspectives difficult, especially when trying to write as Victoria. I hope nobody finds this change disappointing. I did consider adding a short, first-person, dialogue with Damian at the beginning of each chapter. I may still. Please leave me a comment regarding your thoughts on this matter. 

Going back to the previews that I put into Assassin Marked, I plan on placing them here on the website, as well, so check back soon.

The Unfettered Child: Progress Report – Currently, the novel is sitting at 82,000 words, and 18 chapters. I estimate it to be about 82% completed. 

Lavender Rose: Progress Report – Currently, the novel sits at 13,270 words. About 13% completed.

As always, feel free to leave me a comment with any thoughts or questions.

~ Michael C. Sahd

 

My wife suggested I write about my post-publishing nervousness. Between Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads, LibraryThing, and this bloody blog (heh, I like the way that sounds), I’ve been working very hard to get the word out about “Assassin Marked.”

To be honest, I have no idea how to explain my nervousness. It could be the persistent itch to get more of my stories out there. Then again, it could be the fear of not doing well; the nagging question, “Will people like it?” One of my biggest fears at the moment is receiving a terrible review on Amazon.

But enough about that. I really don’t want to write about my nervousness. Rather, I would like to write about my progress. I spent a bit of time today revising some of the fiction piece I’m working on. It’s requiring that I studying the effects of post traumatic stress disorder in children, and the psychological effects of a parent losing his family. A little teaser there.

I’ve also been hard at work composing a more thorough historical time line for Damian’s world in “Assassin Marked.” Not for publication really, just notes for myself to help me remain consistent in my story. But I have many little stories springing up revolving around Damian, or the world Damian lives in.

My six-year-old daughter, on the other hand, decided that her pony needed a haircut for the weekend.

TGIF,

~ Michael C. Sahd

 

 

Many writers will share that real life experiences inspire the tales they tell. Many, myself included, scoff (or have scoffed) at such a statement; telling themselves, “My life isn’t nearly so interesting.” What I have learned, however, is that this is rarely the case. Experiences take place daily, and though they may be mundane to you, they won’t be after “enhancing” them.

Just the other day, I took a trip to the local library to find the second book to the Septimus Heap series. I, of course, found Angie Sage’s books fairly quickly, and although they had many of her books, the one I wanted was not on the shelf. Naturally, I asked the librarians to see if it was checked out. It wasn’t.

I informed the lady at the counter that I had looked and it wasn’t there; she responded by telling me to look around, because people don’t always put them back in the right place. A little disheartened, I went back to look again (I had already looked around the nearby shelves, duh). After not finding it, I went back to the librarians for help. Instead of helping, they shrugged and said it could be anywhere. I left, rather annoyed by their lack of help.

However, the librarians were interesting characters, and a version of this scene has already inserted into my next story with Damian. I have changed many of the details and spiced it up a bit, but the entire scene is inspired by this short interaction.

Your experience doesn’t need to be Hollywood material. Just the smallest interaction, large enough to catch your attention, but not much more than that, can turn into a scene in your book. Take notes, make a voice memo, or just tell someone about it, and you will be able to get it down on paper. Embellishing the experience into an interesting scene is what makes you a writer.
And no . . . I still have not found the second book to the Septimus Heap series.

Septimus Heap, Book Two: Flyte by [Sage, Angie]

After a late night of last minute editing and fussing with Amazon Direct Publishing, my first short story is published.

Assassin Marked
by Michael C. Sahd
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Assassin Marked tells a story of a man and his lover who work for the mafia in a futuristic setting. I believe it is an interesting read.

Although I have overcome a great hurdle, my nerves are twisting into a ghastly knot, much like a pile of unraveled yarn. The pressure to provide more stories to the public weighs heavy on my mind. The last thing I want to do is provide this one story and then not release anything again until years later.

Assassin Marked, which I began to write almost ten years ago, had sat complete and edited for almost a year now (maybe more). I’m really hoping that future stories will come more quickly.

Yet I’m not done with Damian. Already, work has begun on a larger story involving the assassin, and the addition of some new individuals.

Meanwhile, Balanced Tipped faces a serious revision, but I’m confident that I will turn it in to my editor, Laura Pruett, very soon. Incidentally, if any of you reading this article are in need of an editor, click on the link I provided. I know of no better editor than her.

Keep checking back here for more information on published works.

I’ve heard the first step to recovery is admitting that there is a problem.

For many years, I’ve aspired to join the ranks of the multitude of writers whose works are sitting on the shelves of local book stores and libraries. Unfortunately, I am one of those who has difficulties writing continuously, I constantly find myself fixing spelling and grammatical errors as I write. Worse than that, I sometimes revise what I write while I’m still in the process of creation.

“Assassin Marked,” sadly, took me over a year to get to the stage it’s in now, and all I needed was a cover.

Still, I find myself nervous. What if it doesn’t do well? What if nobody is interested?

Well, this week, I am going to take the plunge and publish on Amazon. If it doesn’t do well, then at least I’ll have my name out there.

A vapid work week has created a holy grail of the weekends. Time seems to be tied up in the trappings of a working-class American’s struggle to survive, and trivial pursuits in entertainment. Not a bad life when my marvelous family is stirred into the mixture.

Just this morning, while listening to the radio, I zipped through traffic, driving the same route I drive every Monday through Friday. Of course, I could ramble on about the depressing state of affairs I heard on the radio, plaguing our country at the moment, but if you don’t already know, then I wouldn’t be so cruel as to burst your bubble. Rather, congratulations on successfully isolating yourself from these affairs.

I must admit that I find it difficult not to complain about all the banal trappings of my professional existence, but that is not why I am here. The true purpose of this blog is to escape the mundane reality of work. To keep my imagination flowing through my fingers like Harold with his purple crayon.

Using Amazon, I will start publishing my stories, and I will be advertising and discussing them here. The first one will be called Assassin Marked, set into a fictional not-too-distant future.

As time passes, my goal is to fill this blog with many published stories and ideas. The blog will not have a definitive goal, but rather, I plan on letting it morph with my ideas as I come to them.

~ Michael C. Sahd