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

No, I’m not talking about Dungeons and Dragons. I’m talking about character sheets for the characters in novels. Not to say that I haven’t used D&D to make characters for my novels, because I certainly have. However, Dungeons and Dragons lacks some very important elements for characters in books.

You want your characters to be memorable. You want them to be believable (at least in some ways). You want them to be unique. How do you go about doing that? Well, I’ll start by telling you how I do it. Then I’m going to share some resources I found to help.

However, since I mentioned resources, I’ll actually start with what I use to outline, keep notes, store information, and begin my writing process. Google Docs! Why do I choose Google Docs? Because it’s easy, it’s organized, and I can access it anywhere I want.

The hitch is the internet requirement for using Docs, and it’s true, it’s quite painful to not have access to my documents when I’m not connected to the Interwebs. With that said, I only work when I’m at a computer, and I rarely am not connected.

The Spine

What you see above is the spine of my projects, with each folder being the start of a project I’m working on. Within each of these, I keep the main body of the work, broken down by chapters, and then I have a folder as well that contains notes. It’s in the notes folder that I keep my character sheet.

Now for the structure of my character sheet, or what I prefer to call my Character Portrait. I start with the name. That’s kind of a given. Then I go into physical appearance, but I don’t go into great detail here. Instead, I focus on defining traits. For example, Samara’s people are of a darker complexion like that of the Chinese or Mongolians; however, Samara is paler than most of her kind. Also, she has abnormal, night-blue eyes, almost black, whereas most of her people have brown or hazel eyes.

Next, I focus on the character’s history. Why history over personality? Because history, more often than not, shapes personality. Samara’s people are nomads. Life is difficult for them, and they rely heavily on one another. Therefore, Samara is very selfless, willing to stand up for others. She was also being trained as an apprentice by the tribe’s shaman. She is very devoted to her studies, very curious, and intelligent. When she learns magic, it is with determination and relentless persistence.

After history, I focus on the character’s interests before and during the story (sometimes they can change). I also put notes of significant research in the document. For example, I have extensive notes on childhood trauma and how children are affected by and deal with it.

That’s it. I have extensive write-ups for each of these sections. I don’t spend a whole lot of time developing every little detail of the character, that usually just pops in while I’m writing, and I can fill that stuff into my notes later. However, I still do make D&D character sheets, because it’s fun.

This may not work for every writer, so I’m going to tell you of some programs that I discovered, and one in particular that I’m interested in. I’m going to try using portions of it on my next project.

Bibisco

Bibisco is a free-to-download program that gives you a bunch of amazing features, and if you donate (at least 12 pounds), you get even more amazing features.

I’m only going to focus on the character sheet portion of this program, but it is worth checking out the rest if you need help organizing things like locations, timeline, architecture, themes, scenes, and chapters.

The first step to creating a character on Bibisco is to click on the characters tab. The program will now have two sections on the main screen: main characters and secondary characters.

On the right side is a button that states “create main character.” Click this and it will ask for your character’s name. Type it in and hit save. This will take you back to the previous screen, but now you will have your character listed underneath the section that says “main character.”

Next, click on that character. Here is what you’ll see:

As you can see you, there are five questions: Who is he/she? How does he/she look? What does he/she think? Where does he/she come from? And, Where does he/she go?

Underneath these questions are more buttons. When you click on them, you are given a more in-depth questionnaire about the character. There are a large number of questions there, so I’m not going to go into each one, but for example, the “physical features” button has questions like, “What does his/her shoulders look like?” Very, very detailed lists.

Other programs

I haven’t looked into the details of these, but I found a list over on www.reedsy.com that talks about several options (paid and free) when it comes to software for novelists. Click the link for more details.

So how about it? Do you find yourself using these programs? Do you think they’re useful? Please comment below, and thank you for reading.

~Michael C. Sahd

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!

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

 

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

 

Stephen King is one of my favorite authors because he writes about the characters instead of the story. The story just happens to the characters. In this video, Stephen King gives a few pointers.

If writing guides your passions, then Stephen King’s book, On Writing, will provide you with excellent tips.

On Writing Book
On Writing, by Stephen King

I read On Writing, and I feel that it helped me quite a bit. I posted links if you are interested. Sometimes hearing from someone successful can provide us with a little motivation. Which author motivates you to write? Let me know in the comments below.

~ Michael C. Sahd

The Liars' Asylum by Jacob M. Appel Book Cover

The Liars’ Asylum by Jacob M. Appel
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Liars’ Asylum offers a brief glimpse into the characters’ lives, often leaving the reader with many questions unanswered. I assume that this is the purpose of the writer, encouraging the reader to think about the stories and their potential endings long after the story itself is over; however, I believe that some of them could easily be expanded into a longer work. On the other hand, perhaps some, if not all, of the stories are exactly what they appear — a moment in time, just one sample of one character’s life, but which changes the course of his or her life forever.

Jacob M. Appel’s writing is consistently clear and interesting. Each story flows seamlessly until its end, which sometimes comes with little warning. Overall, I would recommend this book to someone who is looking for short, entertaining stories to read.

***I received a review copy of this book; however, the opinions expressed in this review are my own.

View all my reviews

~ Michael C. Sahd

Beloved
Beloved by Toni Morrison

Beloved by Toni Morrison
My rating (on Goodreads): 4 out of 5 stars

They say, “Don’t judge a book by its cover,” and that definitely applies to Beloved! When I first saw the book, I thought, “Oh crap! A romance novel.” I was way off. In spite of its ambiguous cover, Beloved is actually a ghost story, resulting from the desperate actions of Sethe, an escaped female slave.

Readers may debate whether Sethe makes good decisions; however, regardless of right or wrong, her actions come back to haunt her, literally. I don’t want to give away the story to prospective readers, but I will say that this book isn’t for everyone. Filled with dream sequences, flashbacks, and memories Beloved flip flops through time in a manner reminiscent of William Faulkner or Virginia Woolf. Love it or hate it, don’t skip reading it.

On a side note: the movie is horrible. No Hollywood flick could ever encompass the grittiness and raw emotion captured by the book. But don’t take my word for it: Read it, watch it, rate it! Let me know what you think.

View all my reviews

~ Michael C. Sahd

A path winds through a forest


Rearing up like a gnarled gargoyle, the trunk leaned over the forest path, moss blanketing its northern side. Vegetation crept up to the path, creating a wall of leaves, branches, and thorns. A light mist filled the woods, casting the forest in a light shroud.

Despite the nature all around, not a single bird could be heard; if not for the insects, the forest would have been eerily quiet.

And if only you had known . . . if you had any inkling . . . then we would have avoided these woods . . . . But now it’s too late. I will miss you . . . .

A path winds through a forest