Observe the image below! Soon, I intend for my website to feature a dark appearance to match the style of story I enjoy horrifying you with. The dilapidated tabletop covered with horror and dark fantasy themed objects will feature the links to other parts of the webpage.
With my skills in Photoshop, crafting such a website design is simple. However, I would rather create something that feels authentic, more realistic so to speak, so I’m going to hit up the photographer that helped me with the cover to The Unfettered Child, Jarrod Woods. Perhaps he and I can can come up with a photo that would serve this purpose and offer a more interactive and aesthetically pleasing website.
I hope this change will represent the first small step in my efforts to provide content that you will find interesting throughout the coming years, while also reflecting the darker nature of my tales. I will share more in the coming weeks, and update you on the progress of this new design.
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.
When I start pecking at my keyboard, I generally have a good idea of what I’m writing about. Not that I claim to be a scholar like Tolkien, but I have the internet at my fingertips and a library down the road. Meaning, I do my research.
The reason I bring this up stems from a comment I received regarding Samara’s age in The Unfettered Child. The commentator suggested that I make her 14 or 15 to better fit with the story.
I can appreciate someone not wanting to read about an 8-year-old child, but Samara’s age is perfect for my story. Here’s why:
Age and Culture
Historically (especially in primitive societies like Samara’s), adulthood was attained at the onset of puberty and was expected by then. In many cases, this meant around the age of 10 or 11 years old. To put it quite plainly, a 14-year-old Samara would have been several years into adulthood, probably married, and may have had a child or two of her own. Much too old for the story I intend to tell. Click here for more information; or here for additional information.
This doesn’t answer the full spectrum of the comment either.
I know that here in America and in most first-world countries, we spoil children (and ourselves) with the modern conveniences provided to us, and thank God for that. I’m really glad that my children have the opportunity to grow up free from the hardships that the nomads might consider normal.
However, even in our country, some children suffer. Hardship slinks its way even into the best the world has to offer. What happens when children experience hardship? They mature . . . quickly.
Before I even get into the maturity of children that experience hardships or live it on a regular basis, I want to point out that even my spoiled rotten children regularly display maturity and critical thinking. My 10 year old has had a vocabulary that could put many adults to shame, and has for two years now. He also mingles with our adult friends, preferring their company to that of children his own age, and they in turn treat him as a peer.
But back to hardships. Samara’s story, short of the fantastical side of it, echoes parts of my own. I was a year younger than Samara when my mother passed away. My father was 57 at the time and had little in the way of help. As the oldest of my siblings, I had to grow up quickly and learn the importance of responsibility.
Plenty of documentation exists concerning the way of life for children in tribal societies. These children are well on their way to adulthood long before some of us begin high school.
So no. An older Samara would be out of place in my story, and historians and sticklers for accuracy would poke holes in the story had I made her older just for the comfort of those who cringe at the idea of children experiencing such hardship.
Do you have trouble with reading stories involving young children in terrible situations? Let me know your thoughts.
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?
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.
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:
Getting my daughter to model the main character
Making a costume
Doing a photo shoot
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.