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! 😉

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 …

NaNoWriMo website logo
NaNoWriMo

I’m a bit late for this, but my curiosity is piqued. What is this all about, you ask? Well, we’re going to find out together.

The Facebook group, Ninja Writers, is where I first heard tell of NaNoWriMo, as people have started calling it. In one post, a Ninja Writers’ member exclaimed that he was on his 100th page of his novel. That’s great! I thought. However, underneath that, he wrote, “NaNoWriMo is going well for me!” I thought to myself, What the hell is NaNoWriMo?

So I turned to my friend Google, and I said, “NaNoWriMo?” And Google, being the ultimate at knowing exactly what you want from single word questions, pointed me to https://nanowrimo.org, the National Novel Writing Month website.

I clicked around the site, and I determined a few things from what I read. First, I am very late. You’re allowed to sign up in September. Second, you start posting updates and all that from Nov 1st through the 30th. Third, the novel must have a minimum of fifty thousand words by the end of the month. Fourth, major authors give pep talks and support. Finally, it’s a community where writers meet.

Let’s get started:

After clicking “Get Started,” I am taken to a basic form: name, email, password, age verification, and reCAPTCHA; you know, the basics.

After making certain that I’m not a robot by clicking the checkbox, I hit sign up.

The next page says “Thank you!” and I must wait on an email to complete the sign-up process. Fortunately, the wait is only 0.5 seconds long. The email has a link that takes me to a sign in page.

My first pop-up from NaNoWriMo!

The first item on the agenda is selecting a region. Since my county is not on the list, I choose the next one over.

“Committed to writing 50,000 words in the 30 days of November?” NaNoWriMo asks.

“I’ll do my damndest,” I say.

“Follow these easy steps to get started,” it says:

  1. Fill out your profile. (Will do)
  2. Create your novel starting in September. (Oops)
  3. Select your region. (I did that on the last screen)
  4. Earn badges. (Badges? We don’t need no stinkin’ badges!)
  5. Get inspired. (Easier said than done. Am I WRITE? Ha, see what I did there?)
  6. Start Writing. (Erm, Somehow I think this is akin to step 2.)
  7. Claim your win. (Now we’re talking! What do we win?)

 

Ok, so step one: filling out the profile. At the very top of the page, it has a field for the name of your novel, and a spot for a picture. I also note that if you donate to the site, you can get a “halo.” In all, there are five tabs to fill out. I seem to be on the “Author Info” tab, as the fields below ask for the basic profile stuff, location, b-day, hobbies, fav music, website, sponsorship, occupation, fav books or authors, and a bio.

I accidentally add The Unfettered Child as this year’s November novel. I could delete it, but nah.

The other tabs are “Novels,” “Badges,” “Writing Buddies,” “Buddy Of,” “Goal Trackers,” and “Stats.” Over the next few days, I will play with these.

The closest group to me is in Stephenville, so I introduce myself on their forum. They apparently meet quite often at the local Starbucks to . . . write, I guess. Drink coffee and write. I love it.

Overall, the experience is good. How effective it is still depends heavily on how involved you are. Check back and I will write about the “Inspiration” section. From what I see, there are pep talks from successful authors.

That’s all for now. Thanks for reading!

Lavender-colored rose against a technology background

Lavender Rose

“Daaammmmian,” a honeyed voice rang out from his apartment. “Please refrain from killing my men. I have no intentions of harming you.” The Syndicate obviously wanted him alive. Ignoring the voice, Damian used his free hand to quietly open the window at the end of the hall. “Really, Damian, I just have a job for you. There’s no need for this violence,” said the man.

Instead of entering through the open window, Damian moved to the closest apartment door. “I don’t work for the Syndicate anymore!” Damian shouted and shot down the hall, masking the sound of his boot kicking the door open. The door bounced, eliciting a scream from behind the door.

Slipping in quickly and quietly, gun first, Damian noted an obese naked and tattooed man stumbling back from the door swearing about a broken nose. The man’s belly bounced as he landed heavily on his rear. Damian pointed his gun at the man. “Shut up,” he said, his voice cold and deadly. He quickly shut the door behind him. The apartment’s layout looked like a mirror image of his own. The likeness ended there. This man’s slovenly messes littered every room. A terrible stench wafted out of the kitchen, and in the bedroom, a woman hid her nakedness behind some cheap blankets. Damian pointed the gun at the woman and repeated, “Shut up, now!”

The man nodded enthusiastically, encouraging her to capitulate. His eyes were wide with shock and fear, and blood stained his unruly beard. Damian returned his aim to the man.

After determining that the man and woman had acquiesced, Damian turned his body to the side, enabling him to peek out of the spy hole in the door while still keeping the pistol trained on the obedient man behind him. He heard the group out in the hall talking amongst themselves in Japanese. “He must have gone out of the window,” one said. Then the honeyed voice spoke again. “Follow him; don’t lose him.”

 

If you enjoyed this excerpt, stay tuned for more in Michael C. Sahd’s upcoming full-length novel, Lavender Rose (The DuFonte Chronicles, Book 2).

Lavender Rose
Lavender Rose Working Cover

Fresh Ink Contest Logo
 
 

“But the old woman shook her head and said, ‘Oh, you dear children, who brought you here? Just come in and stay with me. No harm will come to you.'” 

For young aspiring authors, the Texas Book Festival and the Division of Diversity and Community Engagement (DDCE) hosts the Annual Fresh Ink Fiction Contest. “Young” means whippersnappers (although I still don’t know what that means), or rather, that you must be in middle school or high school to submit your book to the contest.

From what I read, this contest runs a different theme or subject every year. This year, they chose the theme, “What Really Happened.”

I would personally like to know “What Really Happened,” and, fortunately, I will be able to find the winning stories published on the Texas Book Festival website.

The last day for submission is on May 18th! So get over there and submit!

~ Michael C. Sahd

P.S. Bonus points if you know where the top quote comes from! Let me know if you recognize it in the comments below.

Distraught Soldier
 

 

When people think of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), the first thing that comes to their minds is typically war, or more specifically, the traumatized soldiers who return from war, jumping at the slightest sharp noise. Rarely do people think of children when they hear the term.

However, children can and often do experience trauma. The list of events that can cause PTSD in children is a long one.
I am not, however, here to teach or rant about child abuse, although the topic is totally rant worthy. I am particularly interested in the effect of natural disasters and traumatic losses on children. “Why?” you may ask.

Well, I have a book in the works that involves a young girl who loses her entire family to freakish events, and I’m trying learn how children deal with grief on such a large scale.

Want to share what you have been researching this week? Feel free to leave a comment!

~ Michael C. Sahd

 

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

In Cerrillos, the small town I grew up in, there stood a gnarled hill with two cliff faces that climbed up to the precipice. The front face, or at least what we considered the face, looked as though the Devil’s large, boar-like head burst up from the earth, his snout extending through the boulders piled around it. As children, we leaped from boulder to boulder until we climbed to the top of the snout. We shied away from climbing higher than the snout on the face of this hill, as it seemed crumbly, steep, and dangerous.

Devil's Throne
Devil’s Throne side

However, the other cliff face, although completely vertical, had solid grips and hand holds. This side of the hill had been cut away to allow the train tracks to run past. I had spent many hours climbing this cliff, but the most exhilarating moment happened when a friend and I crossed a ledge no more than four inches across and close to 100 ft in the air. The wind slapped our hair and clothes around us.

As I crossed this ledge, my heels and back tight against the rock, I could see the sheer drop below me, and I thought about going around; however, at the point I decided this, I would have had to shift my weight and start going that direction, and that was not happening. So, after ten or so feet, we crossed over to the unknown crevice, which fortunately had the hand holds to go the rest of the way up instead of back across the ledge.

This fits into one of those experiences that can make good stories. I may one day include some variation of this one.

Devil's Throne Front
Devil’s Throne front

I would love to hear some of your experiences such as this one!

~ Michael C. Sahd

Taboo Board Game
 
 

Saturday evenings, we visit our local comic book shop for board game night. This evening, we played a game called Taboo. To play the game, a minimum of four players must split into two groups. One player on the team draws a card that the player must use to give hints to the others on his/her team so that they can guess the word at the top of the card.

The clue giver cannot use the word or any parts of the word. In addition, the card lists five or six related words that are taboo, meaning that the clue giver must avoid using those words in their hints as well. Guessing the word will score the team a point; however, if the clue giver uses a taboo word, the team loses a point. A short timer allows the team to guess as many cards as they can in the time limit, then the other team gets a chance to score points.

When writing a story, there are also taboo words; we call them “to be” verbs. A writer should avoid using these words as often as possible, because, more often than not, a more colorful verb will describe a better action. Sometimes “to be” verbs are required . . . er . . . . Sometimes a sentence requires the use of “to be” verbs, such as sentences that fail to describe an action. A couple of examples of sentences devoid of action include:

“My name is Michael.”

 
 

“Black is my favorite color.”

Take a look at something you recently wrote. Try removing “to be” verbs from your writing and compare the before and after. Did you find that making these changes paints a more colorful story? I typically do.

~ Michael C. Sahd