The Mummy (Ramses the Damned #1)The Mummy by Anne Rice
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

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.

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The Mummy by Anne Rice

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

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

Children fishing

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.

Maturity

Image from Imgflip

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.

Me working when I was younger. No, I joke. A child labor picture from Pixabay.

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.

That’s all I have for now.

~Michael C. Sahd

The Magician

He held the fate of two worlds in his hands . . . Once, he was an orphan called Pug, apprenticed to a sorcerer of the enchanted land of Midkemia. Then he was captured and enslaved by the Tsurani, a strange, warlike race of invaders from another world.

There, in the exotic empire of Kelewan, he earned a new name– “Milamber.” He learned to tame the unnimagined powers that lay within him. And he took his place in an ancient struggle against an evil enemy older than time itself.

My thoughts on Goodreads:

Magician (The Riftwar Saga, #1-2)Magician by Raymond E. Feist
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The fact that I knew nothing about this story when I first started reading this book left me with a more favorable impression of it.

This book started as a typical fantasy trope: A young boy (Pug), is stuck in a mundane life, but training as a wizard. The book features elves and dwarves and orcs and conflict and blah . . . Same story I’ve heard and read (and played in Dungeons and Dragons) a thousand times. However, I kept reading at a friend’s behest . . . ***spoiler, but not really because it’s in the blurb*** . . .

Then the invasion from another planet happens. I remember sitting up in my seat, exclaiming “What the h***!” (my agent demands that I quell my public expletives). Anyway, from that point on, I found myself hooked to Pug’s adventures and read the entire series. Had I even read the blurb , this book would not have had the impact on me that it did. I liked the book, but the surprise I experienced made the story memorable. Hence, I give this book four stars and highly recommend you read it.

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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

Man branding a cow.
I don’t mean what cowboys do to their cows!

I’ve been thinking a lot about this subject. I keep reading at different places that, as an author, I must create a brand. I have never quite understood what this means. After doing some research, I think I discovered a possible explanation.

I may be wrong, but it sounds like making my work into a series or writing about a world that I created to write my stories in.

Why would I want to do this? I know it helps generate sales, because readers get attached to your world and your characters, but I’m not really into writing about the same characters in one series indefinitely like so many authors do.

Book collection with series.
Book 1, book 2, book 3, book 4, book 5, book 6, . . .

I have so many ideas, and many are not in the same genre. I have a comedy in mind, several horror stories, and a steam punk adventure. Let’s not forget my current publication, Assassin Marked, a science fiction crime novel, and my soon-to-be-released dark fantasy, The Unfettered Child.

As I pondered this, I turned to one of my favorite authors, Stephen King. Everyone knows him as a horror writer, but he isn’t really. He has written many different genres, although I don’t know that he has written any space operas (he could have, but I don’t know of any).

It’s Stephen King Time

I know at this point in his career Stephen King’s brand is his name. I know I’ve picked up many of his novels just because of his name. However, if we really think about it, Stephen King does have his own world he writes in. It’s earth, but it’s this strange and twisted sort of earth with many different realities within it.

Anyone who has read his novels knows that a good majority of them, if not all, are tied together in some way or another. He has a recurring villain, bits and pieces of The Stand show up in The Gunslinger, as does a creature like the one in It. His towns in Maine show up time and time again, with incidents being mentioned by this character or that.

One of my favorite novels, Insomnia, ties in to It and others (I can’t think of the titles right now).

Anyway, I started to think. I have this world that Samara and Orin’s story takes place in (my protagonists in The Unfettered Child). I have these characters, and other characters too. Abdhul Havelle, Sigmia, Illtud, Nikolai, Zayra, and let’s not forget Priestess Samara, who saved baby Samara’s life. These characters could have adventures of their own.

My editor also pointed out that I could have my other stories tie into the world somehow, although I have no desire to tie The DuFonte Chronicles to my world, as those stories come from our very own Earth in some terrible version of the future.

Maybe I’ve missed the meaning of “branding.” What do you guys think?

~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 …