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

While perusing the endless posts of writers seeking help and advice on social media, I’ve run across some who ask, “How can I make magic work in my story?”

Many established authors have broached the subject and invented unique methods, but new writers want to make something fresh.

Pimply Wizard
A young wizard

The real question is: What is a fantasy story without magic? Of the top of my head, I can’t think of any high fantasy stories that don’t include magic of some kind. J.R.R. Tolkien, J.K. Rowling, Neil Gaiman, Robert Jordan, and so many more authors have included magic in their stories.

Each of these authors approaches the use of magic in their own way, and applies their own limits to its use. For example, Harry Potter must have a wand and must know the correct incantation. Stupefy anyone lately?

These limitations, I feel, are very important for an author to include, and would perhaps be the first thing to consider when developing a magic system. Without them, a character runs the risk of becoming a superbeing without challenges, and challenges are what make a story good.

While you are developing your system, consider including a learning curve for beginners, and the opportunity for growth. Remember Willow’s first spell? He accidentally shot himself into a tree. Perhaps you can have a school for magic, or an apprentice system. Regardless of the method you choose, all of your characters should have a starting point, and a place to grow into.

Willow

These three things–limitations, learning, and growth–serve as a foundation to your character and their magical growth. Next, you can develop magical structure and techniques, but honestly, these are not important to flesh out unless you feel your reader needs them to understand the first three things.

In my current work-in-progress, for instance, a mage must draw upon their own inner reserve of power, which grows stronger as they practice the art. As the mage uses magic, it drains them, making them feel tired. If they push too hard, the mage will die from the exertion.

It’s a very simple explanation, and I like it that way. This allows me to focus on telling the story. Don’t let your lessons on how magic works interfere with the tale you’re weaving.

I would love to hear your thoughts on how magic works for you. Let me know in the comments below.

~Michael C. Sahd

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!

 

Assassin Marked: I’m very excited to report that Assassin Marked has been republished with a new cover. I created several designs of the new cover, but this is the one we decided to go with. I’d like to give credit to my nine-year-old son, Erebus, for providing tips on the colors of the lettering, specifically the red.

Assassin Marked Cover
Assassin Marked

We also improved the interior text formatting so that the words on the right page are not so close to the binding. In addition, we added a few more pages to the end of the book, giving you a very short sneak peak of Lavender Rose (the next book in the series), and my upcoming fantasy novel, The Unfettered Child (soon to be released).

In the short time that I have had Assassin Marked republished with the new cover, we have discovered a significantly more favorable response on Amazon giveaways for the book. It’s interesting how a cover can make such a difference. On some levels, it makes sense, since the cover is the first thing a potential buyer sees. If it isn’t interesting, then why should they purchase it? It doesn’t matter how good the inside content is if people aren’t attracted by the cover. I find this unfortunate, but that’s just the way it is.

Image result for First person
First person

I’ve learned something very important from publishing Assassin Marked. I really hate writing in first person. I dislike it so much that I’m not going to continue that theme with the next book in The DuFonte Chronicles. I particularly found switching between Damian and Victoria’s perspectives difficult, especially when trying to write as Victoria. I hope nobody finds this change disappointing. I did consider adding a short, first-person, dialogue with Damian at the beginning of each chapter. I may still. Please leave me a comment regarding your thoughts on this matter. 

Going back to the previews that I put into Assassin Marked, I plan on placing them here on the website, as well, so check back soon.

The Unfettered Child: Progress Report – Currently, the novel is sitting at 82,000 words, and 18 chapters. I estimate it to be about 82% completed. 

Lavender Rose: Progress Report – Currently, the novel sits at 13,270 words. About 13% completed.

As always, feel free to leave me a comment with any thoughts or questions.

~ Michael C. Sahd

 

Fresh Ink Contest Logo
 
 

“But the old woman shook her head and said, ‘Oh, you dear children, who brought you here? Just come in and stay with me. No harm will come to you.'” 

For young aspiring authors, the Texas Book Festival and the Division of Diversity and Community Engagement (DDCE) hosts the Annual Fresh Ink Fiction Contest. “Young” means whippersnappers (although I still don’t know what that means), or rather, that you must be in middle school or high school to submit your book to the contest.

From what I read, this contest runs a different theme or subject every year. This year, they chose the theme, “What Really Happened.”

I would personally like to know “What Really Happened,” and, fortunately, I will be able to find the winning stories published on the Texas Book Festival website.

The last day for submission is on May 18th! So get over there and submit!

~ Michael C. Sahd

P.S. Bonus points if you know where the top quote comes from! Let me know if you recognize it in the comments below.

Distraught Soldier
 

 

When people think of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), the first thing that comes to their minds is typically war, or more specifically, the traumatized soldiers who return from war, jumping at the slightest sharp noise. Rarely do people think of children when they hear the term.

However, children can and often do experience trauma. The list of events that can cause PTSD in children is a long one.
I am not, however, here to teach or rant about child abuse, although the topic is totally rant worthy. I am particularly interested in the effect of natural disasters and traumatic losses on children. “Why?” you may ask.

Well, I have a book in the works that involves a young girl who loses her entire family to freakish events, and I’m trying learn how children deal with grief on such a large scale.

Want to share what you have been researching this week? Feel free to leave a comment!

~ Michael C. Sahd

 

Jeremy Bentham Portrait

I have been beating my head against a wall trying to come up with a reasonable goal for my antagonist in the sequel to “Assassin Marked.” So much so that I’ve taken to Google and started researching lawyers, the mafia, etc.

 

Jeremy-Bentham
“The power of the lawyer is in the uncertainty of the law.”
Jeremy Bentham

 

Back during the prime of my adolescence in New Mexico, I spent a lot of time climbing the cliffs and hills. For me, navigating the dangerous rocky cliffs up high offered the most fun during these excursions. Consequently, shuffling up the slopes of scree that hemmed the base of the cliffs deceptively seemed like they would be the easiest part of the excursion; however, the climb, although more frightening, proved much easier once I gained the courage to ascend. The scree, like the walls of an antlion’s den, would send you sliding back down as far, or further than where you had started, until you got a handle on how to step up it. For the more cowardly, it was great fun to just struggle up scree and then go sliding down to the bottom, ignoring the great unreachable cliffs above.

Image result for scree
Scree


These adventures in the mountains of New Mexico are much like a lawyer’s career. A good lawyer reaches the top of the mountain of integrity and justice, but they all start at the bottom, attached to a stereotype reserved to the most slimy and scuzzy of their ilk. We all think of lawyers as nasty, lying, cheating, money-grabbing individuals ready to make a buck by taking advantage of some poor schmuck, and the lawyers starting out in the career have a responsibility to break out of that mold, or to reach a peak, so to speak.

Some do not. Rather, they spend their entire career at the bottom, and I’m not saying they aren’t successful, but perhaps they are scared. Those who make it further up the mountain have further to fall, so rather than risk their livelihood on the constraints of morality, the majority stay at the bottom, enjoying the slide of deception and reaping all the benefits of a necessary profession.

But how can you tell the difference? Well, you can’t. Just like I can’t prove that I’ve climbed to the summit of most of those mountains.

Image result for Kirin Ichiban
Kirin Ichiban

 *Spoiler* Kirin Ichiban fits right in with these deceivers, and perhaps may be the best of his kind. He has one of the most successful law firms on Penelope. As we all know (or should know, if you’ve read Assassin Marked), he also has strong ties to the crime syndicate. It’s clear that he is motivated to amass power, but what is his ultimate goal?
If you were a power-hungry lawyer with the ability to read minds, what would your goal be in the United States? Any thoughts?

~ Michael C. Sahd