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

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 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

The Costume

So I got my model, and I had my photographer lined up. What’s next? Well, she needed to look the part. I needed something directly from the book, and Samara was described as wearing mammoth skin, black leather, with a brown-and- gray fur.

My first stop was Hobby Lobby and Walmart, where I bought a few things:

This was the fabric I purchased, and I know there is very minute difference between the two black ones in the picture, but they were very different in person. The black fabric from Hobby Lobby was softer, more supple than the faux leather from Walmart.

I had a friend, as I mentioned, who intended to put this together for me, but much to my horror, he was not getting back to me. So I took the fabric over to another friend’s house and attempted to sew it myself on his sewing machine, using a pattern I bought.

What a huge mistake that was. A tailor, I am not.

Fortunately, about halfway through the day, I got a call from my tailor friend. “I’m ready to work on that costume,” he said, and I was on the other end practically leaping for joy. “Great!” I responded, I’ll be right over.” What I didn’t tell him was that I already started it on it. To his great dismay, he discovered that when I showed up at his house.

“What the hell did you do?” he asked me, when I pulled out the butchered tunic that was way too large for my daughter. Looking abashed, I said, “I was trying to get started. I had a pattern. It said it was for 6-10 year old children.” What the pattern meant by that age though, was that it was meant for 6-10-year-old children of GIANTS.

Well, he took my stuff, and I didn’t hear back from him for days.

In the meantime . . . I went to work on the kukri, and I took pictures of the process. I had to think about how to make this blade. I didn’t have a forge, and I definitely didn’t have time to learn how to make one.

What I did have was a grinder. I thought to myself, I can possibly get a large blade and cut it down to size. I ran to Harbor Freight and bought a machete for $5.99

Oh wait, let me back this up. In addition to the knife, I also had to carve some buttons for the costume. We wanted it to be as authentic as possible so, in lieu of mammoth tusk, I used deer antler (that’s about the same, isn’t it?).

Then I went online and looked up ancient Siberian carvings (because my tribal people are loosely based off of them), and went to work. We had decided on toggles, and I finished them in short order:

Okay, back to the knife. I decided to use the excess deer antler to make the handle. I cut out the blade and the handle, then glued them together:

So there’s the basic kukri. Now came the hard part. I went online to look up pictures of sabretoothed cats. I needed something with its mouth open, and I found this:

I needed to carve the cat into the handle!

I have never carved anything like this before. Not that I had zero experience. After all, I am a jeweler and spent a good part of my life making jewelry out of lost wax. Still, this was a different beast (like what I did there?). I had to carve a three-dimensional cat’s head into a deer antler. Well, I went to work, and I think it came out just fine:

See how that progressed? Finally, I had to put on the finishing touches, such as the engraving and the gem. Considering it is a prop (although a functional one), I just hot glued the gem in place.

Yes, that is Arabic. If you want to know what it says, you must read my book! ūüėČ

Making the knife was very fun.

Okay, so I had two days to the photo shoot, and I still hadn’t heard back from my friend. I had asked him if I could come over to take progress pictures, and the response I got was, “There is nothing to take pictures of.” So I was getting nervous.

The Saturday before the shoot, we went to board game night and my tailor friend showed up. As nonchalant as I could be, I asked, “Where the hell is my costume!!!” Well, not quite in that manner, but you get the idea. He told me that he would have the finishing touches done that night, and I could come get it before the shoot.

I will talk more about the next day in part three, but here is the completed version of the costume. It came out wonderfully.

That’s my daughter in her Samara costume. She says she is going to be Samara for Halloween.

Come back next week for Part 3. I will show off the pictures from the photo shoot.