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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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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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

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

Michael released Assassin Marked in October of 2017. However, Damian made his first appearance long before that, in a short story Michael wrote while still in high school.

Although nothing ever came of the original story, Damian continued to inhabit some primal domain in Michael’s imagination. He finally returned to our world in a dialog practice that Michael wrote for a college writing class. This, too, found itself filed away among many of Michael’s other writings.

Years later, Michael’s wonderful wife (who also happens to be a professional editor) took a look at Assassin Marked. After much persistence from her, Michael made the story what it is today, and Damian emerged from his secret hut, hidden away in Michael’s imagination.

The DuFonte Chronicles

In addition to Assassin Marked, Damian will be featured in future stories and novels in the DuFonte Chronicles, including Lavender Rose.

The DuFonte Chronicles!

Angela (Pooled Ink Reviews) rated it FOUR STARS  “ASSASSIN MARKED is a short story that introduces what is sure to be a very interesting world. Damien seeks vengeance, Victorias loyalties tear her apart, both have a choice to make that will alter the course of their lives. Do they obey orders? Or do they allow love to sway them and death to chase after? This is the story of an assassin marked.  …more

Grace J Reviewerlady rated it FIVE STARS “Firstly, let me say that Im not and never have been anything remotely like a fan of sci-fi. However, I just have to follow that up by saying I LOVED this short story! …more

Amanda (A Brighter Shade of Hope) rated it FOUR STARS “I would recommend this book to anyone who loves science fiction, gunships and assassins or is up for a simple but gripping read set in the solar system. I’m not sure if there are any plans for continuation of the story, but I would definitely love to read more of Damian, Victoria and the ruthless Syndicate in the future.  …more

 

 

Jeremy Bentham Portrait

I have been beating my head against a wall trying to come up with a reasonable goal for my antagonist in the sequel to “Assassin Marked.” So much so that I’ve taken to Google and started researching lawyers, the mafia, etc.

 

Jeremy-Bentham
“The power of the lawyer is in the uncertainty of the law.”
Jeremy Bentham

 

Back during the prime of my adolescence in New Mexico, I spent a lot of time climbing the cliffs and hills. For me, navigating the dangerous rocky cliffs up high offered the most fun during these excursions. Consequently, shuffling up the slopes of scree that hemmed the base of the cliffs deceptively seemed like they would be the easiest part of the excursion; however, the climb, although more frightening, proved much easier once I gained the courage to ascend. The scree, like the walls of an antlion’s den, would send you sliding back down as far, or further than where you had started, until you got a handle on how to step up it. For the more cowardly, it was great fun to just struggle up scree and then go sliding down to the bottom, ignoring the great unreachable cliffs above.

Image result for scree
Scree


These adventures in the mountains of New Mexico are much like a lawyer’s career. A good lawyer reaches the top of the mountain of integrity and justice, but they all start at the bottom, attached to a stereotype reserved to the most slimy and scuzzy of their ilk. We all think of lawyers as nasty, lying, cheating, money-grabbing individuals ready to make a buck by taking advantage of some poor schmuck, and the lawyers starting out in the career have a responsibility to break out of that mold, or to reach a peak, so to speak.

Some do not. Rather, they spend their entire career at the bottom, and I’m not saying they aren’t successful, but perhaps they are scared. Those who make it further up the mountain have further to fall, so rather than risk their livelihood on the constraints of morality, the majority stay at the bottom, enjoying the slide of deception and reaping all the benefits of a necessary profession.

But how can you tell the difference? Well, you can’t. Just like I can’t prove that I’ve climbed to the summit of most of those mountains.

Image result for Kirin Ichiban
Kirin Ichiban

 *Spoiler* Kirin Ichiban fits right in with these deceivers, and perhaps may be the best of his kind. He has one of the most successful law firms on Penelope. As we all know (or should know, if you’ve read Assassin Marked), he also has strong ties to the crime syndicate. It’s clear that he is motivated to amass power, but what is his ultimate goal?
If you were a power-hungry lawyer with the ability to read minds, what would your goal be in the United States? Any thoughts?

~ Michael C. Sahd

Dear Readers,

Today through Christmas, the Kindle edition of “Assassin Marked” is free on Amazon. My wife started the Amazon promotion this morning and by lunch, 11 copies had been purchased. Add it to your to-read list for some fun reading material to entertain you during your time off this Christmas. Feel free to leave a review, and be sure to let me know what you think!

Assassin-Marked
Assassin Marked

Happy Holidays!

~ Michael C. Sahd

Not all of you may know this, but I have a manager. My wife not only edits my work, but she has also been marketing for me like a beast. Hence, we have scheduled a book signing at our public library — the Brownwood Public Library, located at 600 Carnegie St. in Brownwood, TX to be precise. I plan to be there from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. on the 18th of November, and you can bring a book to be signed. If you don’t have a book yet, there will be plenty there for sale that I will also sign.

When I first discussed the book signing with the library, we had planned for the 11th of November; but alas, today we received an email stating that the library director had just learned that the library will be closed that day due to Veteran’s Day. Of course, my wife had already advertised for the 11th on several websites. Rather humorous.

Amazon Hot New Releases
Amazon Hot New Releases

At this time,  Assassin Marked is #10 on the Amazon Hot New Releases list in the 45-Minute Mystery, Thriller & Suspense Short Reads category.

Future book signing events are planned, and, if you are unable to make it to these book signing, you can also purchase a signed book from the Signed Bookstore on Authors Den.

If you haven’t read Assassin Marked yet, you’re missing out. Check it out on Amazon. There, you can buy the paperback or ebook version. If you have Kindle Unlimited, you can read it for free.

~ Michael C. Sahd