The Final Touches

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:

The cover first uploaded to Amazon.

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:

Samara centered in the image.

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.

Composition Thumbnails. The last frame is a joke, of course.

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.

More thumbnails

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:

More details in the composition thumbnails.

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):

Full cover with first “absorbing the lightning” image.

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.

The Unfettered Child without title

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:

The final cover
The final mockup

What do you think?

~Michael C. Sahd

The Unfettered Child Releases

The Unfettered Child Mockup

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.

We also found this jewel of a review on a blog: http://pagesforthoughts.blogspot.com/2019/08/the-unfettered-child-by-micahel-c-sahd.html?m=1 As far as I can tell, it has not shown up anywhere else yet.

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.

My business card

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.

Signing off,

~Michael C. Sahd

The Beginnings

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.

Image by かねのり 三浦 from Pixabay

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.

Al-Azhar mosque from Wikipedia

Temples like the one above are scattered throughout the Havallan Empire, with depictions of the Sun and the Moon.

Symbol of Najima’uwe’Alqamar min Samawi
Nenets reindeer sledge

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?

That’s all for now. Thank you for reading.

~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

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

The Day Of The Photo Shoot

This was your classic busy day, during which you scramble to get everything done in the short amount of time you have allocated. We had to meet our photographer at “solar noon.” Why? Simply because we were using a green screen, poor-man style.

Basically, I had bought some green fabric, which we needed to hang from a tall fence, and the sun had to be directly above us so that it would not cast a shadow.

So we had a timeframe to get ready in. One of the largest issues with using my daughter as the model for Samara was her hair color. Samara has dark black hair, and my daughter has dirty blond locks. Otherwise, she fit perfectly.

So her cousin, who used to work in beauty departments, suggested that we use spray-in hair coloring, because we did not want to use a permanent dye.

We had gone to Sally’s Beauty Supply the day before to buy one of these sprays, and that morning, we took my daughter over to her cousin’s house to get it colored and to apply makeup.

If you are unfamiliar with beauty supply products, then you are blessed. That stuff stinks. I can hardly understand why anyone would sit in a nail bar (parlor, I’m not sure what they’re called), and suffer that scent. I get sick walking by them at a mall.

Anyway, her cousin started spraying her hair with this stuff, and it was working wonderfully. Her hair was turning black before our eyes, and it was drying quickly. She was a third of the way through when the can started sputtering.

Now we were in trouble, sort of. I jumped in the car and raced down to Sally’s.

You know that feeling you get when it seems like you’re rowing up a current, trying to fight against the rapids? Well, that’s how I felt when I pulled into Sally’s and found it closed. Of course it was closed on a Sunday.

However, my quick thinking had me ramming the car in reverse and skipping over to Walgreens. They have beauty supplies, right? Damn straight.

I found L’Oreal Paris Magic Root Cover Up, as per her cousin’s recommendation, and raced back to her house.

She finished spraying my daughter’s hair, and it looked black! Except (and here I’m rowing up that river again), the new stuff bled . . . badly. Her face and makeup would get a black streak in it any time the wind blew a strand into her face.

We decided that it was fine. It would make her look dirty, and Samara was dirty a good portion of the book, so good.

We went to pick up her costume, then drove over to meet our photographer, just in time.

The first round of pictures were taken against the green screen so that we could get the solar-noon lighting.

Pay close attention to her hair. It is black in the front and not so much in the back. This was due to the Sally spray lasting and the Walgreen spray not. Anyway, these were a lot of fun, and we took oh so many more, but these were my keepers.

We were not done yet, however. We headed over to a local park next, which had a nice nature trail and a river next to it, to take some more natural pictures.

We took this awesome set and thought we were done after that, but then my daughter noticed a neat-looking tree in the distance and wanted to climb it and get some pictures in that.

They came out nicely too. You may recognize the middle one from my Twitter or Facebook banner.

Next week, I’ll go into what it took to make the actual cover.

That’s all for now.

~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

 

 

Assassin Marked book cover floating in space

The last two weeks, I have been super busy writing. Not anything new. I’ve mostly been improving The Unfettered Child, preparing it for publication. Yup, that means my Camp NaNoWriMo project has been put on the back burner. Sorry, Camp NaNoWriMo!

This upcoming novel is entirely unrelated to Assassin Marked, but don’t give up hope, folks. I’m certain you will enjoy The Unfettered Child, and it won’t be too long before you see Lavender Rose’s release ( the full-length sequel to Assassin Marked). Sorry, people waiting for the sequel.

Assassin Marked Ad
Free on April 30th

Speaking of Assassin Marked! As the title to this blog post states, I am running an Amazon promotion, so you can download a digital copy of Assassin Marked for free. Yeah, that’s right! Starting right now and continuing throughout today, April 30th, you can get Assassin Marked for free. What are you waiting for? Click here to order.

In other related news, something that’s been milling around in my head is turning Assassin Marked into a graphic novel. Turns out I’m not the only one thinking along these lines. Earlier this month, I received the following review on Goodreads:

Goodreads Review.

The main reason I’m bringing this up is that I would love an artist to step up and turn it into a comic book. What do you say, artists? Want to earn some royalties?

That’s all I got for now. Thank you for your time.

~Michael C. Sahd

If you are unaware of who Paul Burt is, you’re about to learn. How? Well, he narrates Assassin Marked. That’s how. Of course, you can also find out more about him at his website, or by clicking his name above or the image below.

Paul Burt
Paul Burt

If you’re wondering how I met Paul, it was on ACX, a website to help authors connect with voice actors. I auditioned a few voice actors, and I liked Paul’s reading the best out of the bunch. I feel he most accurately captured the noir style I was going for with Assassin Marked.

Those of you that have read Assassin Marked know that a good portion of the story is written from the point of view of the female protagonist, Victoria Maruska. I feel that, as a male, it is very difficult to portray a female’s voice when reading out loud. Many men give the female voice a high falsetto that is really awful to hear. Paul Burt managed to pull off Victoria without the falsetto, and it was pretty good. The only way it could be better would be if a woman had read it (but then Damian’s portion would have suffered, haha).

I’m really excited to see how well my readers like the audiobook. To get a copy of the audiobook, you can click here and sign up. Just think, now you can listen to Assassin Marked while driving or while waiting for an appointment! Even though it the audiobook was only released this afternoon, people have already ordered it. I can’t wait to hear their feedback!

Here is a sample of Paul Burt reading the book:

Assassin Marked Audio

I hope you’re as excited as I am. If you get it, please let me know what you think in the comments below.

That’s all for now.

~Michael C. Sahd