The rocky relationship between an overbearing mother and her prodigal daughter becomes even more tumultuous when the mother, distraught over witnessing her husband’s long, painful death, decides to satisfy her terminally ill aunt’s last wish.
I really misjudged this novel when I started reading it. “This sounds rather bland,” I thought. Well, I started getting into it pretty quickly, despite the slow start. Not that I thought the start was bad; it just didn’t seem congruent with the genre I like to read.
By the time I got halfway through the book, I told myself, “This is actually pretty good, I’m going to give it a 4 star.” As I neared the end, I figured the book could end in one of two different ways. One way, I decided that I would give Spring a 3.5 star. The other way I would go 5 stars all the way.
Looking at my rating, you can plainly see that J. J. Spring did not disappoint me. A perfect ending for a beautiful story wrought with difficult decisions. The challenges Laura Beckman faces are ones I hope I never have to face with my own children.
The story starts with Laura Beckman agonizing over the suffering of her dying husband in a hospital room. He lies there, unable to speak, and when he does communicate with her, it’s to beg her to allow him to die, to stop the suffering. Needless to say, she stays with him as he slowly declines, kept alive by the doctors as long as possible.
Shortly after his death, her aunt Nora makes them promise to not let her suffer like that. So between herself and her aunt Gracie, they come up with a method for humanely allowing her aunt to commit suicide, but not before granting her one last adventure.
Laura and Gracie soon become the saviors to several terminally ill patients, starting a group they coin the chocolate shop.
I won a signed copy of this book, and I would recommend it to anyone really. Unless you’re an ostrich. Don’t read this book if you’re an ostrich.
Wow! How do you rate this? How do you rate someone’s life, their pain, their suffering, their fear? I didn’t really want to, but I know how important it is for an author.
If this were a work of fiction, my rating would be so different, or if I were to rate it on the writing alone. I disliked the poetry. Even the prose was written poetically, and I care little for that style of writing. However, I’m going to ignore that part of my brain for this review. It’s trivial to the story being told in Storm Cloud Haze.
Storm Cloud Haze is a story of pain. It’s a story of trauma. It’s a story of acceptance. It’s Alessandra’s story. To say I found the story frightening is an understatement.
When I took Kenpo Noh Shin Do, it was to learn to defend ourselves, to end a fight quickly, and by whatever means necessary. But how? How do you win a fight when your opponent is your own body? The concept is terrifying, and Alessandra’s experiences are chilling.
I can only commend Alessandra for her bravery, for seeking hope in a situation that seemed devoid of it.
I won this book in a contest. I could tell right off that it’s not my typical read, but as a literature student, I learned not to turn down a book just because it’s not in the genre that resonates with me.
This book contains a beautiful, haunting story of survival. I highly recommend it to anyone really. It’s short and gives you something to think about.
Because of what this book is, because of what this book stands for, I can only leave it five stars. But again, how do you rate this?
This book is difficult for me to rate. I definitely enjoyed it at times, but then I found that I was exasperated by it at others. It’s listed as a historical fiction and it definitely qualifies, but it is most certainly a romance novel as well.
I had no idea that I was reading a romance until toward the end, although the clues were there. Not that this is a huge issue, as I’ve read some romances before and they were perfectly fine reads. Just not my cup of tea.
But the real issue for me was this: When introduced to the protagonists, Blay and Tedder, I was struck by their incredibly unfortunate story of being sentenced and then sent to Van Diemen’s Land to serve the rest of their lives, or so it seems. They’re in chains, they’re starving, they’re struggling, they’re being whipped, and they’re just generally miserable. How will they escape this misery? I wondered excitedly.
In the most boring way ever. That’s how. Shortly after they get off the ship, the story turned south for me. Don’t get me wrong. I still enjoyed it. I kept reading. I wanted to know more. O’Connell did an excellent job. But! But a normalcy set in that rankled me.
Keep in mind that I don’t want to give away spoilers. Throughout the latter half of the book, the characters would experience a conflict within their normal, boring lives, and it would be resolved within a few pages. No cliff hangers. Each chapter ended on a happy, “everything is going to be all right, and I’m sure glad I was arrested and sent here” note. It certainly became tedious.
UNTIL THE END! The book ends on a cliffhanger of sorts, just enough to drag you into the next book in the series. Will I read it? Maybe. A big maybe.
The character I’m most interested is William Blay, one of the children of the Blay who heads the story. I’m not going to say why, but he has a little adventure that intrigues me a lot.
Next, I want to say that Tedder’s story of how he got arrested really resounded with me, and I was incredibly disappointed with the way the author handled him. The poor man got the short end of the stick.
All in all, it was an excellent read. It kept my attention despite the normalcy near the end, and I would recommend this book to anyone interested in the history of Australia and/or romance stories.
I’m giving it 3.5 stars, rounded up to 4. I was given this book for an honest review.
Ramses awakens in 1914 in London, years after his previous awakening. When he had reigned over Egypt he learned the formula to make an elixir that made him not only immortal, but superhuman. He apparently is highly intelligent, reflected by learning English in record time. I personally wonder how intelligent he is, because some of the decisions he makes in the story aren’t the brightest. However, his poor decision making is what drives the plot.
Anne Rice loves her immortals. I think perhaps Ramses is my favorite type of immortality featured in her books. Unlike her vampires, Ramses doesn’t seem to have any flaws (Other than thinking with his little head), but seems to enjoy all the benefits of her older vampires. Although, I personally would prefer Ramses’ immortality, it doesn’t really do the book any favors. A good book needs flaws, and poor decision making doesn’t really do it for me.
All in all, I’ve always enjoyed Anne Rice, and I think this is a fine read, just not as good as some of her others.
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:
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:
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.
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.
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:
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):
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Temples like the one above are scattered throughout the Havallan Empire, with depictions of the Sun and the Moon.
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?
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
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).
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.
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:
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.
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.
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 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.
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.