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

 

 

New Year - Fresh Start

I can’t say that I have ever made a New Year resolution list. After seeing one of my fellow writers on Twitter make a post about it, I thought I would give it a shot. So here goes:

Write a little every day: I know I’ve said this many times, but I would like to keep it a goal that I write at least a little every day. I’ve read many books concerning getting published. Even my favorite book by Stephen King, called On Writing, insists that the only way to be a writer is to write more and read more, which brings me to my next resolution.

Read more: I actually do read every day. Every night before bed, I will read a chapter or two to my nine year old. Currently we are reading the Everworld series. I would, however, like to read for myself as well.

Enjoy work: I would like to find a way to enjoy my job, and somehow rid myself of the parts I don’t enjoy. I’ve already started taking measures toward this.

What about you guys, my faithful readers? What are your New Year’s resolutions?

Assassin Marked Book Cover
New Assassin Marked book cover

Happy holidays everyone! It’s time for another book promotion. Today, you have the rare opportunity to download Assassin Marked for free. Be sure to grab yourself a copy to read while you have a bit of time off work next week.

Speaking of time off (or the lack thereof), our house during the holidays has been a madhouse. Although many people make this claim about their households at this time of year, ours was especially hectic this year because we were unaware of our family’s main Christmas party until two days prior! To be frank, my wonderful wife was incredibly busy getting ready for it. She had planned to crochet bags to put presents in this year instead of wrapping them, so on top of cooking the cookies (and yes, the cookies were amazing), she  was also crocheting up a storm.

We ended up with many Christmas parties to attend during the weekend, which meant lots and lots of good food. I could have gorged myself, but I was good and didn’t. Ok, maybe a little.

I did, however, have the opportunity to show off my awesome homemade pepper sauce. This sauce was very simple: peppers, garlic salt, and vinegar. But oh my god, it was good, and, unfortunately for some, also stupid hot. Yes, I used Carolina reapers to make it. I eat hot peppers all the time, so this is not that big a deal for me. Why reapers? some may ask. Well, the flavor is amazing. The reaper has one of the best pepper flavors. It is so good that my wife puts at least one of these tasty peppers in the salsa she makes, despite the heat. If you can handle hot, I highly recommend this pepper.

How did your holidays go? Did you experience anything unexpected or unplanned while you were visiting family or opening gifts? Did you get (or give) anything awesome? If so, let me know in the comments below. That’s all for now.

~ Michael C. Sahd

Carolina Reapers
Carolina Reapers

NaNoWriMo website logo
NaNoWriMo

I’m a bit late for this, but my curiosity is piqued. What is this all about, you ask? Well, we’re going to find out together.

The Facebook group, Ninja Writers, is where I first heard tell of NaNoWriMo, as people have started calling it. In one post, a Ninja Writers’ member exclaimed that he was on his 100th page of his novel. That’s great! I thought. However, underneath that, he wrote, “NaNoWriMo is going well for me!” I thought to myself, What the hell is NaNoWriMo?

So I turned to my friend Google, and I said, “NaNoWriMo?” And Google, being the ultimate at knowing exactly what you want from single word questions, pointed me to https://nanowrimo.org, the National Novel Writing Month website.

I clicked around the site, and I determined a few things from what I read. First, I am very late. You’re allowed to sign up in September. Second, you start posting updates and all that from Nov 1st through the 30th. Third, the novel must have a minimum of fifty thousand words by the end of the month. Fourth, major authors give pep talks and support. Finally, it’s a community where writers meet.

Let’s get started:

After clicking “Get Started,” I am taken to a basic form: name, email, password, age verification, and reCAPTCHA; you know, the basics.

After making certain that I’m not a robot by clicking the checkbox, I hit sign up.

The next page says “Thank you!” and I must wait on an email to complete the sign-up process. Fortunately, the wait is only 0.5 seconds long. The email has a link that takes me to a sign in page.

My first pop-up from NaNoWriMo!

The first item on the agenda is selecting a region. Since my county is not on the list, I choose the next one over.

“Committed to writing 50,000 words in the 30 days of November?” NaNoWriMo asks.

“I’ll do my damndest,” I say.

“Follow these easy steps to get started,” it says:

  1. Fill out your profile. (Will do)
  2. Create your novel starting in September. (Oops)
  3. Select your region. (I did that on the last screen)
  4. Earn badges. (Badges? We don’t need no stinkin’ badges!)
  5. Get inspired. (Easier said than done. Am I WRITE? Ha, see what I did there?)
  6. Start Writing. (Erm, Somehow I think this is akin to step 2.)
  7. Claim your win. (Now we’re talking! What do we win?)

 

Ok, so step one: filling out the profile. At the very top of the page, it has a field for the name of your novel, and a spot for a picture. I also note that if you donate to the site, you can get a “halo.” In all, there are five tabs to fill out. I seem to be on the “Author Info” tab, as the fields below ask for the basic profile stuff, location, b-day, hobbies, fav music, website, sponsorship, occupation, fav books or authors, and a bio.

I accidentally add The Unfettered Child as this year’s November novel. I could delete it, but nah.

The other tabs are “Novels,” “Badges,” “Writing Buddies,” “Buddy Of,” “Goal Trackers,” and “Stats.” Over the next few days, I will play with these.

The closest group to me is in Stephenville, so I introduce myself on their forum. They apparently meet quite often at the local Starbucks to . . . write, I guess. Drink coffee and write. I love it.

Overall, the experience is good. How effective it is still depends heavily on how involved you are. Check back and I will write about the “Inspiration” section. From what I see, there are pep talks from successful authors.

That’s all for now. Thanks for reading!

Lavender-colored rose against a technology background

Lavender Rose

“Daaammmmian,” a honeyed voice rang out from his apartment. “Please refrain from killing my men. I have no intentions of harming you.” The Syndicate obviously wanted him alive. Ignoring the voice, Damian used his free hand to quietly open the window at the end of the hall. “Really, Damian, I just have a job for you. There’s no need for this violence,” said the man.

Instead of entering through the open window, Damian moved to the closest apartment door. “I don’t work for the Syndicate anymore!” Damian shouted and shot down the hall, masking the sound of his boot kicking the door open. The door bounced, eliciting a scream from behind the door.

Slipping in quickly and quietly, gun first, Damian noted an obese naked and tattooed man stumbling back from the door swearing about a broken nose. The man’s belly bounced as he landed heavily on his rear. Damian pointed his gun at the man. “Shut up,” he said, his voice cold and deadly. He quickly shut the door behind him. The apartment’s layout looked like a mirror image of his own. The likeness ended there. This man’s slovenly messes littered every room. A terrible stench wafted out of the kitchen, and in the bedroom, a woman hid her nakedness behind some cheap blankets. Damian pointed the gun at the woman and repeated, “Shut up, now!”

The man nodded enthusiastically, encouraging her to capitulate. His eyes were wide with shock and fear, and blood stained his unruly beard. Damian returned his aim to the man.

After determining that the man and woman had acquiesced, Damian turned his body to the side, enabling him to peek out of the spy hole in the door while still keeping the pistol trained on the obedient man behind him. He heard the group out in the hall talking amongst themselves in Japanese. “He must have gone out of the window,” one said. Then the honeyed voice spoke again. “Follow him; don’t lose him.”

 

If you enjoyed this excerpt, stay tuned for more in Michael C. Sahd’s upcoming full-length novel, Lavender Rose (The DuFonte Chronicles, Book 2).

Lavender Rose
Lavender Rose Working Cover

The Unfettered Child Working Book Cover

The Unfettered Child

Meanwhile, here’s a sneak peek into Michael C. Sahd’s upcoming fantasy novel, The Unfettered Child:

“In all the countless moons of my life, I have never met an elf, Abizou.” The strong deep voice emanated from what appeared to be a human skeleton into a throne room which appeared richly decorated, but devoid of life. Even as it spoke, the skeleton sat motionless on its marble throne, its bones loosely wrapped in red and white silk robes embroidered with gold. Gold and marble made up the decor of the large room, with scatterings of white banners that each featured a red sun.

They are treacherous, Havelle. Almost as treacherous as you, said a woman’s voice, seemingly from nowhere.

The skeleton’s head turned slowly to gaze sightlessly upon a round blue-faceted gem resting on a velvet red pillow. Two red pinpoints of light glowed in the hollows of the skeleton’s eyes. “What do you suppose they want? I could not discern with my magic.”

Elves have powerful mages, who put shields in place to protect against any such divinations. Also, they are not known to parley with lesser beings, said the woman’s voice, apparently originating from the gem.

The skeleton’s gaze turned back to the large double doors at the entrance of the hall. Distant horns could be heard, marking the approach of the elves. The skeleton stood, pulling itself up with a copper and silver staff. No sooner did it take a step down the dais than a yellow halo enveloped it. Then, like a strange liquid, muscle, followed by flesh, flowed around the bones and filled out the draping robes.

Now, in front of the throne stood a strong and handsome olive-skinned man. He looked over at the blue stone sitting next to the throne and smiled. “I’m pleased you think so highly of me,” Havelle said.

If the stone could have scoffed, it would have. Instead, it said nothing.

Havelle stepped to the right of the throne. Flattening his robes with hands now covered in flesh, he said, “I think, perhaps, I sleep too much.”

Your lineage manages the empire just fine without you, said Abizou.

After hundreds of years, Havelle sighed for the first time. Enjoying the sensation, he sighed again.

Troubles? asked the gem.

“Troubles? No, I’m just enjoying the sensations of having a body.” He smiled wickedly at the gem.

The Unfettered Child book cover

 

The Unfettered Child
A new novel by Author Michael C. Sahd,
Coming this Autumn!